I have a very vivid memory of when I was eight or nine years old. My dad came home late that night, he went directly into my younger brothers’ room to plant a kiss on their cheeks while they were fast asleep. When he left their room, he told my mom, “I haven’t seen them in three days.”
My father, like many men at that time, was working an 8 a.m.-6 p.m. job that demanded even longer hours with no flexibility. Working in investment banking, he was not only expected to work until 9 or 10 p.m. at times, but to keep his emotions at home and bring only his professional conduct to the workplace. As a result, he had to miss seeing his children, who caught the bus to school at 6:30 a.m. and went to bed at 8 p.m.
You might ask: Why couldn’t he just take time off? Couldn’t he have managed to leave just a little earlier to see his kids?
To that I say: Until healthy work-life balance becomes a reality for both men and women, everyone loses. My parents’ experience proves this out.
When the two-hour lunch break request my mother asked for at her job was declined, and with my father’s long and inflexible working hours, my parents decided that my mother had to give up on her career to make time for our family. This put the whole weight and the pressure of providing for the family entirely on my father’s back, which meant no plan B, no safety net, no guesses, not even a 99 percent calculated risk. This meant he had to lose his personal preferences along with a lot of the personal dreams any young family man in his thirties would have. This meant little questioning, fewer choices and more doing.
Enabling fathers to leave work on time isn’t as easy as it seems. The corporate world is built to reward the exact opposite behavior. A study from the University of British Columbia found that men get a “daddy bonus” as their salaries increase by 6 percent for every child they have, while women working full-time see a 4 percent decrease in their salaries for every child. Men often work more hours after having children, while women tend to shift to jobs with more flexibility and shorter days, and men evidently pay a price for those extra hours in the form of burnout, lower levels of happiness and higher stress levels.
I’m proud of my father and grateful for the life and the love he’s given us. I’m equally proud of the way he has raised us, especially my brothers. Looking at my brothers now, I know they don’t want a job to deprive them from time with their daughters and sons. I know they want to be their kids’ best friends, they want to be there with enough mental, physical and emotional capacity to hear what happened at school, to know the names of friends and teachers, to know about their kids’ latest discoveries. They don’t want their children to grow up thinking their father is always busy, and they sure don’t want to only provide for their children to live, they want to live this life and enjoy it with them.
There is evidence that men’s behavior and expectations about work-life balance and time away from work for family are changing. Fathers taking paternity leave rose to 80 percent in Sweden after the country reorganized its family leave policy to include a nontransferable portion for men. In Norway, more than 90 percent of fathers take at least six weeks of paid leave. The corporate world in other countries should take notice and answer to the emerging needs and the evolution of the new dad.
When Max Schireson, the CEO of MongoDB, announced his resignation, he shared an honest blog post explaining he wanted to spend more time with his family. In his post, he mentioned the three points prompting his decision to step down:
- I have three wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and nine, and I love spending time with them.
- During travels, I have missed a lot of family fun. Perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car or when my son had minor and successful, and of course unexpected emergency surgery.
- I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.
The bottom line is this: Creating better policies that support work-life balance means allowing both men and women to succeed in both their professional and personal lives, allowing them to succeed while simultaneously taking care of themselves and their families.
Nimati Al Emam is director of strategic planning, Middle East.